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Nadal, Sharapova advance in straight sets at Australian Open

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Rafael Nadal has missed a lot of tennis since last September. He hasn’t missed a beat.

The No. 2-seeded Nadal had a 6-4, 6-3, 7-5 win over Australian wild-card entry James Duckworth on Monday in the first round of the Australian Open, his first match back on Rod Laver Arena since he had to retire during his quarterfinal match last year.

The 17-time major winner hasn’t played since retiring from his semifinal at the U.S. Open because of a knee injury, and then had surgery on his right ankle in November. He also withdrew from a tune-up tournament in Brisbane because of a muscle strain in his thigh, mainly as a precaution, to ensure he’s fit for the season-opening major.

“Not easy to come back after a lot of months of competition, especially against a player playing super aggressive every shot,” Nadal said. “It’s very difficult to start after an injury – I know it very well. It’s very special to be back.”

Wearing a sleeveless top, he showed no signs of any issues against Duckworth. His only hiccup came when he served for the match in the ninth game of the third set and was broken at love. He returned the favor very quickly, though, to seal his spot in the second round.

Nadal has only lost twice in the first round at Grand Slams – to Steve Darcis at 2013 Wimbledon, and to Fernando Verdasco here in 2016 – and is aiming to be the first man in the Open era two win all four majors at least twice.

Maria Sharapova was the first of five Australian Open winners to play on Rod Laver Arena on Day 1, starting with a 6-0, 6-0 win over Harriet Dart. No. 2-ranked Angelique Kerber, the 2016 Australian Open champion, opened with a 6-2, 6-2 win over Polona Hercog.

Sharapova has the second-best record among active women’s players in first-round matches at the majors, and she gave an illustration of why that’s the case in a 63-minute disposal of Dart.

The 2008 champion is making her 15th trip to Melbourne Park and her 55th Grand Slam tournament, and she’s acutely aware of the toll that the sun and long early matches can have on a player’s title ambitions, so she gets straight to business.

Stung by a first-round loss at Wimbledon last year, Sharapova said she couldn’t afford to feel any empathy for Dart.

“I mean, there is no time for that, I’m sorry to say … when you’re playing the first round of a Grand Slam,” said Sharapova, who is still feeling pain in her right shoulder despite sitting out the end of last season after the U.S. Open. “I think I was just focused on not having a letdown.

“I think it’s very easy to be in a position where things are flowing, you know, you’re doing all the right things, she’s making a few errors, you’re comfortable, easy to get complacent, and, you know, complacency is not great. I was glad that I did the right things from the beginning till the end.”

Also advancing were 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens, No. 11 Aryna Sabalenka, No. 19 Caroline Garcia, No. 29 Donna Vekic and No. 31 Petra Martic.

Danielle Collins advanced to the second round of a major for the first time following a 2-6, 7-6 (5), 6-4 win over No. 14-seeded Julia Goerges, who won the title in Auckland to start the season.

Katie Boulter earned the distinction of winning the first 10-point tiebreaker under the Australian Open’s new system for deciding sets, and she celebrated twice.

Boulter beat Ekaterina Makarova 6-0, 4-6, 7-6 (6), including 10-6 in the tiebreaker. Boulter started celebrating and went to the net when she reached 7-4 in the tiebreaker, forgetting it wasn’t a conventional count.

The new rule was introduced to ensure matches don’t get too lengthy – previously the third set in women’s matches and the fifth set in men’s matches at the Australian Open had to be decided by a two-game advantage.

Fifth-seeded Kevin Anderson won his first match at Melbourne Park since 2015 when he beat Adrian Mannarino 6-3, 5-7, 6-2, 6-1. Also advancing on the men’s side were No. 19 Nikoloz Basilashvili, No. 20 Grigor Dimitrov and No. 26 Fernando Verdasco.

Defending champions Caroline Wozniacki and Roger Federer were scheduled to play night matches later Monday.

Ferrer’s last Slam ends with injury against Nadal at US Open

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NEW YORK (AP) There was something bittersweet about David Ferrer’s last Grand Slam match. Yes, he got to depart by sharing the court with his friend and Spanish Davis Cup teammate Rafael Nadal, under the lights on the big stage of Arthur Ashe Stadium at the U.S. Open.

He also was forced to quit for the first time in 208 contests at major tournaments, an ironic adieu for a guy known as one of the most indefatigable players in tennis.

Nadal was ahead 6-3, 3-4 after less than 1+ hours of the first-round match when Ferrer stopped because of an injured left calf that began bothering him in the first set and kept getting worse in the second.

“I’m sad because it’s my last Grand Slam. I was enjoying playing the match against Rafa. I was playing good. But anyway, I am proud with myself, with my career,” said Ferrer, whose best showing at a major was his runner-up finish at the 2013 French Open.

The man who beat him in that title match? Nadal.

“I am 36 years old,” Ferrer said. “It’s time to be home.”

He’s not quite done with his sport, though. Ferrer, who was ranked as high as No. 3 but is currently 148th, made clear he plans to play a selective schedule of tournaments in 2019.

Still, this felt like a farewell, both to him and to Nadal.

“He deserved a better finish,” Nadal said. “I am sad for him.”

They are just the fifth pair of men to play in the first round at a Slam after having met in a major final. In all, this was their 31st tour-level meeting; Nadal won 25.

The only men with more victories over Nadal than Ferrer’s six? Novak Djokovic with 27, Roger Federer with 15 and Andy Murray with seven.

“We played in very important finals for both of us. We played important matches for both of us. Yeah, we shared a lot of very important moments in our lives together,” Nadal said. “He will be one of these guys that the tour will miss, because he is one of the players that is a good guy. The tour loves him.”

Ferrer was asked whether he regretted playing at a time when the Big Four of Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray dominated the sport.

He said that’s not the way he thinks about it, and that it was “a pleasure to play with them, with maybe the best generation,” because they motivated him to strive to improve.

After Monday night’s match, Federer saluted Ferrer with a tweet that conveyed “ultimate respect.”

Others offered other words of praise, including 2009 U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro, who said after winning his first-round match Monday that Ferrer “was the kind of player no one wanted to face.”

Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at https://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

More AP tennis coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-Tennis

Wimbledon odds for men’s draw have Federer favored over Nadal

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Incumbency bias might somewhat account for the disparity in odds on men’s tennis titans Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in Wimbledon betting futures.

Federer, who has won the Grand Slam championship in London a mind-bending eight times, is listed as the +150 favorite on the Wimbledon men’s champion betting futures, according to sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. Nadal, who has split the last six Grand Slam titles with Federer 3-3, is the second favorite at +500.

Thanks to his superior record on grass courts, Federer is the No. 1 seed with Nadal at No. 2 on the opposite side of the draw, which is the inverse of their overall rankings.

It is understandable if bettors want to stick by the seemingly ageless wonder Federer, who skipped the clay court season to focus his energy on dominating on grass at the All England Club. However, it’s worth remembering that upsets and injuries to upper-echelon players aided his path to the 2017 championship and the law of averages would suggest that’s unlikely to happen twice in a row.

Nadal has not made a Wimbledon final since 2011 but getting the No. 1-ranked player at 5-to-1 odds has some high-risk, high-reward appeal.

Beyond the big two, a good tack for bettors seeking value might be drawing a bead on results rather than reputation – the big names who go high on the board. Novak Djokovic (+650) is getting some respect on the tennis odds, but the elbow problem that cut his 2017 season short makes him a chancy pick.

Alexander Zverev (+800) has had minimal grass-court time this spring, while home-country rooting interest Andy Murray (+900) has also been contending with injury problems.

Value-minded bettors might want to look at 2017 Wimbledon finalist Marin Cilic (+1200), who won the Queen’s Club tune-up tournament (in a bit of foreshadowing, he was the 2017 runner-up before having the same result at Wimbledon). Juan Martin del Potro (+1200) has not played on grass this season, but the hulking Argentinian has beaten Federer this season and, as the No. 5 seed, should be on the same side of the draw.

Inconsistency probably strikes taking a flier on either Nick Kyrgios (+1600) or Grigor Dimitrov (+2000) on the 2018 Wimbledon odds while Milos Raonic (+2000) has also been injury-prone over the last year.

Wimbledon begins at the All England Club on Monday, with the women’s final scheduled for July 14, followed by the men’s final on July 15.

For more odds information, betting picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the OddsShark podcast with Jon Campbell and Andrew Avery. Subscribe on iTunes or listen to it at OddsShark.libsyn.com.